Stater Bros. reports big drop in year-over-year earnings

     The sluggish economy has handed Stater Bros. Holdings Inc., the Inland Empire’s largest private employer, a 40-percent drop in earnings from one year ago.
     The San Bernardino-based grocery chain said its third-quarter financial results were “affected by the downturn in the economy” and the strain it’s putting on family budgets.
     Stater Bros. grocery stores have always competed with national grocery giants, but niche supermarkets like Fresh and Easy Neighborhood Market, Trader Joe’s, Henry’s Farmers Market and Sprouts Farmers Market are increasingly taking a bite out of the competition.
     Higher gas prices are forcing consumers to trim back monthly budgets. For some, that means food.
     Total sales at Stater Bros. stores between September and June jumped
4.5 percent compared to the same period a year ago.
     “Our plan was to hold our customer counts, and that was accomplished,” said president and CEO Jack Brown in a news release.
     Stores saw an increase of 324,000 customers during the last 10 weeks, a sign that Staters is holding its own in the Inland Empire grocery industry.
     The company’s new refrigerated distribution operation will come online by next year.
     Staters is ending a $300 million consolidation project that took months to complete. Multiple distribution hubs have been combined into one large facility in San Bernardino.
     –matthew.wrye@inlandnewspapers.com

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